Recycling and Reusing Seedling Trays and Pots in the Backyard Garden
The Organic Backyard Gardeners Credo: Eco-Friendly Habitat Maintenance
A major benefit of organic backyard gardening is the production of food on site, no delivery needed; as well as eco-friendly habitat maintenance. As an organic backyard gardener I love my frogs, toads, salamanders and other beneficials and so I would never even consider using sprays or toxins in the garden or anywhere around my home because I know these creatures need my support and protection as much as I need their help. It is a well-established fact that the amphibious class is the most sensitive to sprays and toxins and therefore the ones who are most quickly disappearing from our backyard landscapes.
I am also an avid recycler and re-user, and prefer to keep it simple and keep it green whenever possible. After all, my goal is safe, extremely nutritious and healthy food and environs for myself and my family, my loved ones, and all of Earth’ creatures, so I am kind of 'on a kick' that way.
Recycling and Reusing: Mimicking Mother Nature
Most of us organic backyard gardeners prefer to compost rather than use a garbage pail, we prefer to mulch rather than spray chemicals and we also tend to be packaging- and ingredient-aware shoppers for those things we do shop for. Just because we grow vegetables doesn't mean we never go shopping, after all.
We like tools that last and we like to save up our dollars and resources to buy things like new exotic plants or creative art supplies.
We'd much rather re-design the flower garden than spend the afternoon at the mall looking aimlessly at more 'stuff' we could haul home and need to find a place for.
We're just not your average 'consumer' minded individual. We'd rather figure out how to do it ourselves with what we have in the garage lying about than go buy all new materials to do anything.
However, there are limits to everything, and you cannot simply reuse everything forever. Sometimes you actually do have to make investments in new things; like new exotic plants, or a box of watercolor pencils...
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Cleaning Seedling Trays for Reuse
When it comes to seedling pots and trays used for starting vegetables from seed, we are happy to reuse them. We constantly re-purpose other types of containers (particularly food containers) for the garden. However, our zeal for re-purposing and reuse is tempered by our experiences as students of natural systems. We understand that harmful nematodes or fungi, or even plant diseases can be inadvertently spread by contaminated tools, pots or soil mixtures.
Experience has taught us, sometimes painfully, that a lack of care in the proper cleaning and preparation of our equipment can lead to dire consequences. Unfortunately this enthusiasm for cleanliness has historically led straight to the use of household bleach.
Indeed, most of us still seem to be wildly complacent about chlorine bleach.
In particular, we seem to think that when it comes to 'disinfecting' things; from swimming pools to seedling trays, pots or old containers being re-purposed for a new gardening plot or potato bed, we simply accept the not so common sense commonly accepted idea that all we need do is splash some bleach and water around and everything will be peachy and all the things we need dead will be dead and nothing bad will really have happened.
Unfortunately for the environment and for us, this is simply not true. Oh yes, the 'experts' (have you noticed they are all from the chemical companies?) will insist that chlorine bleach breaks down into simple salts and water after a few days... well, sort of.
Meet the Organochlorines
What they don't tell you, and you do not ask because no one has brought it to your attention and you have plenty enough to think about is that chlorine bleach has been the subject of perhaps the single longest running and persuasive advertising and marketing campaign of all time, and is, in fact, the source of something called organochlorines.
Organochlorines is a long word and it is not pronounced as you might expect; the emphasis is on the third syllable, not the second. Organochlorines are just what they say in their name, actually, but what is that, precisely? It is newly formed organic compounds which contain chlorine in their makeup. Newly formed organic compounds that did not exist before you put the chlorine bleach into the environment and let it float about and meet some nice organic compounds who had never encountered it before... at which point they were changed into something that had not been there before. Now, this might not be so bad, but the problem is that organochlorines are also what is called 'environmentally persistent' which means they do not readily break down in the environment and instead tend to persist and stick around a long time.
You are probably saying to yourself that this is getting a little over the top now, and really you just want to disinfect your pots and trays and get back to the garden. I know, sorry about that. But before we leave this section, I think I should tell you the most popularly known organochlorine's name, because then you might change your mind just a teensy weensy bit about chlorine bleach.
Its name is dioxin. It is the most carcinogenic substance known on earth and it is a by-product of chlorine bleach and a specific set of organic compounds which are found in water and in wood pulp and other materials.
The Safe and Eco-Friendly Alternative
Dioxin is the reason most modern (read First World) paper mills no longer use chlorine bleach to bleach their pulp, but instead use hydrogen peroxide.
You can, in fact, use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect your pots and trays. A 20 minute soak in a 3 percent solution will disinfect anything - but if you don't want to wait, then whip out white vinegar and just spray it straight onto the pots and trays after you've given them a regular cleaning to remove old dirt and grime. Then wipe them off with a clean rag, rinse them in clean water and set them out to dry.
Straight white vinegar is such a strong acid it will kill just about everything. And if you want to go the full distance, spray with alternate sprays of white vinegar and 3 percent H2O2 and you will effectively kill and disinfect to a level that is superior enough to be used in a commercial kitchen. Fully 99.7% of all bacteria, fungi, mold, and pathogens including e-coli cannot stand up to this powerful duo.
So, go ahead and reuse those trays and pots, even if some of the plants in them didn't make it or croaked mysteriously if you feel so bold; but do be sure to give them a good washing in dish soap and warm water (no, don't burn your hands, no point, the temperature will not be hot enough to kill anything even as it scalds your fingers) but do give them the old one-two with your squirt bottles of vinegar and H2O2 as the actual disinfectant that they should receive before you place clean soil and seed into them for the next crop.